Hidden Cat Illnesses: What to Watch Out For

Cats are sneaky little creatures: One moment they’re curled up on your lap by the fire, dreaming of slow-moving mice with a limp, the next moment they’re planning on world domination and universal catnip. Long revered for their mysterious personalities, it is this same nature (and a bit of Mother Nature) that can make them a challenge to treat medically.

Here’s why: Imagine you’re a lion out on the grasslands and you are deciding what to have for lunch.

Cat ‘A,’ who appears feisty and healthy, and looks like he might give you a run for your money, even though (to him) he is not feeling well.

Cat ‘B,’ who looks sick, weak and easy to chase down and snack on.

Four out of five lions would choose cat ‘B.’ (That fifth lion is insane.)

Clearly there is an evolutionary benefit to looking healthy and hiding your illnesses. When a modern-day domesticated cat is sick, he or she still taps into that long-ago learned habit of trying to look healthy. To an unsuspecting cat owner, this can trick you into thinking that your cat just got sick yesterday, a phrase which I have heard no less than 11 million times in my short 17 years of practice.

Here presented are a few tips and tricks to help get the jump on feline illness before it can get too far down the road:

  • If your cat is drinking more water than normal. Kidney disease and diabetes are just as common in cats as in people and both will cause an uptick in water intake. Likewise, that water’s gotta go somewhere. If you are scooping more pee clumps in the litter box, something could be wrong. See your vet for blood and urine tests.
  • If your cat is losing weight. There are lots of obese cats out there, so cats on a diet don’t count. Cancer, diabetes, thyroid problems, liver disease and a host of other chronic conditions can cause weight loss, which can be so subtle that you don’t notice it day after day. Weigh your cat at least twice year on your vet’s scale, or stand with your cat on the scale and subtract your weight (this is not a very accurate method, but might do in a pinch). Remember that different scales can give slightly different numbers.
  • If you cat is not grooming. Is a cat that used to look like he had George Hamilton’s grooming habits looking a bit “bed heady” of late? He could be hiding illness! Even older cats still groom when they are healthy, so don’t be fooled and think that it’s just the passage of time. Have your vet do a thorough physical and consider diagnostic tests like lab tests, x-rays or ultrasound to get to the root of the problem before it gets entrenched and harder to treat.

The sooner you spot illness, the sooner you can intervene and restore health. Watch out for those sneaky cats and see your vet today if you notice anything amiss. The lions may go hungry, but your cat will thank you!

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